Israel admits holding Lebanese hostages Court ends secrecy on issue of captives as 'bargaining card'


JERUSALEM -- A three-judge panel of the Israeli supreme court yesterday ended the secrecy of a 4-month-old ruling in which it acknowledged and condoned the fact that Israel was holding Lebanese men, some for as long as a decade, solely as a "bargaining card."

The ruling was the first official confirmation that the Lebanese, who their lawyer says number 21, are being held solely in case they can be used in a prisoner exchange or in some other deal with guerrillas fighting Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.

The existence of the group has been reported from time to time, in Israeli newspapers and in human-rights reports, but the reason for their captivity has been secret.

The panel's decision was made public yesterday only after repeated appeals by the lawyer for the Lebanese, Zvi Rish.

Most of the detainees belong to Hezbollah, the Islamic movement waging a war to oust Israel from southern Lebanon. But the court acknowledged that the Lebanese themselves did not pose a threat to Israeli security.

Such a hostage, Chief Justice Aharon Barak wrote, was a "bargaining card" -- "captured to achieve a goal, and not himself the target."

"I am convinced that detentions of individuals for the sake of freeing our missing and captured men constitutes a vital interest of the state. There is no denying the fact that Israel is in a state of emergency due to the threats hovering over its existence and citizens from within and from abroad.

"In situations like this, damage to basic human rights is obligatory -- sometimes even grave and painful damage."

The most prominent captives are Hezbollah cleric Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani, an Amal militia leader who originally held missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.

Israeli authorities have allowed the Red Cross to visit all the detainees except Obeid and Dirani, who have been kept isolated.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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